President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in what he said was the “pursuit of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.
As part of the decision, Trump announced the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said. “I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Trump said he was taking the “long overdue step” of ending two decades of practice by previous administrations to waive the Jerusalem Embassy Act, legislation passed by Congress in 1995 to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He said prior presidents waived the act to avoid conflict in the region.
“We are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” the president said.
World leaders have advised Trump to hold off on plans to make his announcement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the potential move a “red line for Muslims.” Bekir Bozdag, his deputy prime minister, said the move could “plunge the region and the world into a fire with no end in sight.”
Trump, though, said “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right … to determine its own capital.”
“This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.”
Although it could take years for the embassy to actually move, the announcement makes the United States the first country to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The United States has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, despite the presence of most of Israel’s government there. An independent Palestinian nation, should one be recognized, would use East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians reason that Trump’s move essentially decides a core issue in the decadeslong Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since the 1979 Camp David Accords, the United States has maintained Jerusalem’s status should be determined by Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s decision to move the embassy overturns years of U.S. policy.
A recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is seen by many as contrary to U.S. neutrality, NBC News reported.
The issue is sensitive one in the Middle East. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the move “unacceptable.” Spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said, “If this happens, it will complicate things. It will put an obstacle in the peace process. Maybe it will be the end of the peace process.”
Palestinian organization Hamas was more forceful. Its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said, “Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places.”
Many leaders in the Muslim world condemned the proposed move, and some suggested the United States could subsequently lose its standing as a mediator in a peace process.
Israeli leaders offered little comment on Trump’s expected announcement, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, “Our historical and national identity is receiving recognition, especially today.”
Other world leaders warned of safety issues in Jerusalem and the possibility of violence over Trump’s decision. Germany issued a warning to citizens in the area, saying “violent clashes cannot be ruled out.”
The European Union called for the “resumption of a meaningful peace process toward a two-state solution.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the status of Jerusalem should be a “negotiated settlement.”
Jerusalem is an “open city,” by diplomatic standards, which means Israelis and Palestinians can freely travel. Several Palestinian neighborhoods have checkpoints through which residents must pass.
Most of Jerusalem’s 300,000 Palestinians are regarded as residents and not as Israeli citizens.
By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes